Training for a Half Marathon on a Treadmill

This blog has documented my training for a small handful of half marathons.

In August 2010, I detailed my workouts and training regimen for the Chicago Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. Last year, I blogged about my training for the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon and Women’s Half Marathon in November 2011.

savannah finish

savannah rock n roll half marathon

The first half marathon I ran was back in December 2007, two years before I began blogging. What you may not know about my first half marathon is that I trained for the entire race on the treadmill.

Not once did I run outside before race day.

I completed two week-day five-mile runs on the treadmill and every Sunday I did my long run on the treadmill. (I followed Hal Higdon’s novice training plan.)

Why?

I was a new runner and was intimidated by outdoor running.

I know this probably sounds absolutely crazy to many of you, but running safely on a treadmill took a lot of the “what ifs” out of running. It made it simple, predictable and hard to mess up, which was exactly what I was looking for at the time. I didn’t have a watch to track my distance and pace and figured mapping out a route on MapMyRun.com left a lot of room for error if I went out to tackle a long run on my own since I am directionally challenged.

Now I take running very seriously

turkey trot costumes

Can’t you tell? Winking smile

After receiving an email from a reader inquiring about training for a half marathon solely on a treadmill, I figured it might make an interesting topic for a blog post. The reader said she hates running outside because she gets bored and enjoys catching up on her favorite TV shows while she runs on her treadmill at home.

(Oddly enough, I think the number one complaint for running on a treadmill from most people is that it’s boring, but everyone is entertained in different ways!)

About halfway through training for my first half marathon on the treadmill in 2007, I spoke with a trainer at my local gym in Orlando because I was worried about my training.

The man I spoke with is an amazing runner and flies all over the world working as a pacer for some big-name races. I asked him what he thought about me training for a half marathon by only running on a treadmill and I remember him saying the following:

  • It’s not ideal. Training on a surface similar to the surface you’ll be running on during the race you’re training for is the best thing you can do to properly condition your body for the race ahead.
  • It will work. Running is running. Some people think treadmills make them run slower while others think they make them run faster. If you follow your training plan and do all of your runs on the treadmill, your plan will work and you’ll be able to run a half marathon, just probably not the best half marathon you might be able to run.
  • Add a slight incline. Slightly change the incline every so often to mimic outdoor running. You don’t need to run up a hill, but keeping the treadmill between and 1.0 and a 2.0 is more realistic than having absolutely no incline at all.

I finished my treadmill training and ran the entire race in December 2007, but I was hurtin’! My first half marathon was definitely the most challenging one I’ve run yet (followed closely by the hotter-than-Hades Women’s Half Marathon this year).

Can I attribute this solely to the fact that I only trained on the treadmill?

Of course not!

Running your first half marathon teaches you a lot about training for your second half marathon. I trained for my three subsequent half marathons outside and felt much more prepared for each of those races, but I also paid more attention to proper fueling, among other things. While I personally wouldn’t train for a half marathon by running only on a treadmill again, I know many people adore treadmill running. (Janae even ran an entire marathon on a treadmill, but she’s crazy hardcore.)

So, my runner friends, what do you think?

Other posts relating to half marathon training include:

Questions of the Afternoon

  • Have you ever trained for a race by running only on a treadmill?
  • What do you think about training for a race a treadmill? Can you see both pros and cons to training this way?

Comments

  1. says

    I semi-trained for my first half on a treadmill – weekday runs were done indoors and my long run was always outdoors. You’re right in that it probably wasn’t my best effort, but it worked for me. I think when i train again, I’m going to do as much outdoor running as possible though.

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  2. says

    i never ran outside before (or, really, since) doing a semi-spur-of-the-moment half. i share the email-er’s take on watching TV to pass the time.

    pacing was a challenge…it was a small race with no clocks so i had no clue how fast i was going and i did need to walk at the end (finished a maddening 2:01:57….just annoying to be SO close to under 2h).

    i also had a good bit of trouble in my calves. the race was all rolling hills and i think the DOWN actually was part of the issue since it uses different muscles

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  3. says

    I started on the treadmill because I, too, was REALLY intimidated by running outside. I thought everyone was starting at how pathetic and slow I was. After I got much more confident with running, I can ONLY run outside. And guess what? NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION TO ME!! Shocker.

    I prefer not to train on the treadmill because, like your trainer said, I want to be fully prepared for my run. I want to know what it will feel like to run in the cold, wind, rain, heat, etc. I don’t want any crazy surprises come race day, except maybe an unforeseen beer tent!!

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    • Candace says

      I think the way you do! I run outside ONLY when it’s dark b/c I think everyone is watching me and thinking to themselves “she’s barely running. I could walk quicker than that!” However, I’m trying to get over this b/c I hate the treadmill and I really enjoy outside scenery AND tracking my route on Runkeeper (I’m a nerd that way ;) . You’ve motivated me to get going again outside (when my bronchitis clears up!)

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  4. says

    Some day I would love to run a half-marathon but today I’m very far away. I run 3 time a week but I run not even half what you run and theese last times it has felt even harder than it usually does. I’m never giving up but I din’t know why running gets harder every time and why it doesnät get easier?

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    • says

      running is HARD. you’re doing great by just keeping at it. i must agree with you in that running never really feels easy for me, but it does give me a great sense of accomplishment. i just try to focus on how i feel AFTER a run. :)

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      • says

        This morning as I kept wanting to stop running each step I took I had your words as a mantra in my head. “focusing on how it feels afterwards”… “focusing… afterwards” etc. Yeah, it didn’t help as in it got easier but I got through it and afterwards I was mighty proud of myself. You’re such an inspiration!

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  5. Serena says

    I trained for my first full marathon almost exclusively on a treadmill. I had 3 children and two of them weren’t in school yet so I ran daily on the treadmill. Whenever I got outside I appreciated so much more.

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  6. Katie says

    I am a complete new runner and I’ve been training for a 5k and now a 10k solely on the treadmill because my neighborhood isn’t good for running. I know that once this 10k is over I will be training on the treadmill for my first half-marathon because the weather will be crazy hot. I know that for myself the treadmill is a good way to build me up to running because running has never been easy on me.

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  7. says

    I also trained for my first 1/2 (this February!) entirely on a treadmill! It worked out great. I’m actually one those people who actually prefers running on a treadmill than outside for a bunch of reasons:
    1) I live in a city, so it’s polluted and I don’t want to be breathing in exhaust for 50% of my run, even though I might not notice
    2) Though training on the surface you will be running on makes a lot of sense, running on a concrete is less than ideal for your joints, so the treadmill is a lot lower impact
    3) I live in Canada, so 80% of my training took place when it was way to freaking cold to run outside (I’m definitely not one of those runners…)
    4) I actually find it more entertaining to run in a gym, the energy psyches me up, and like you said, I don’t have to worry about pacing out a route, weather, safety, etc.
    So I totally recommend it!

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  8. says

    I do so much of my running on the treadmill when I’m not training for any races. Mainly because I choose to run incredibly early in the morning when its still dark out and I don’t feel totally safe running outside then. It works for me because I LOVE catching up on my DVR and just relaxing. But I do love love love when I get the chance to run outside.

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  9. Shari says

    Until the last 5 years, I’ve always trained for races with a mix of indoor and outdoor running. About 5 years ago, I tore the ACL and the medial meniscus in my left knee. Once everything was repaired and properly healed, I started running again. Again a mix of indoor and outdoor running. Then I tore the medial meniscus in my right knee and had another surgery. Now I train for any race, 10K or 1/2 marathon, on a treadmill. I do add the incline and will also do some speed work. I love running outside, but the pounding is brutal on my knees so I’ll stick with the indoor thing. I have run only one 1/2 marathon since the last knee surgery about 2 years ago. Not my best time, but I did okay and wasn’t sore afterward. I guess we all have our challenges.

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  10. says

    I can not run on a treadmill for more than 5 miles. Regardless of what is on TV I just lose all interest. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with running. One moment I’m really excited about it and other times I would be happy if I never had to run again.

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  11. Vivian says

    this might be a little off topic but hopefully you can answer – a while back I remember you said you were working on a t-shirt for your website, and was just wondering, what happened to that? I really wanted a pbfingers shirt hehe…

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  12. Angela says

    Hey Julie – long time lurking reader here. Just wanted to finally pop in and thank you for this post! I’ve been thinking about doing a half marathon and usually run exclusively on treadmills since my horrible allergies always kick in when I try to run outside. The fact that you trained on a treadmill for a successful half marathon is definitely encouraging though :)

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  13. heather says

    if someone really has to do their training on a treadmill alone, then i say it’s better that than not doing it at all :) but, if you’re training for a particular race, i do think elements are missing on a treadmill – naturally occuring changes in surface, the elements, and def. the pounding. i get way less sore on a treadmill than i do on the asphalt. one might be in for a surprise after a few miles of impact during a race and certainly the soreness once its finished. the other thing is, figuring out hydration. on a treadmill, you can pop your water in a holder next to you. when you’re outside you have to figure out how to carry it – in your hand, in a belt, if in belt will you have the water vertical, horizontal? a backpack. doesn’t sound like a big deal, but messing around with my water does affect my rhythm and focus.

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  14. says

    I pretty much do all my training runs on a treadmill EXCEPT for my long runs. I’m the same way and am crazy paranoid about safety so if my boy-friend can’t ride his bike next to me while I run 11 miles + than I’m not running that far haha.

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  15. says

    I actually do a lot of my runs on treadmills when training. In the winter, it’s cold, so that’s my excuse then. But in general, its mentally easier to just “go to the gym” then to set out to run 8 miles, etc. Plus there is always the security that you can hop off if needed, where if you run 4 miles out and need/want to stop, then you still need to come 4 miles back. Also since I mainly run alone and live in the city, it;s a bit safer to run indoors than outside, especially in the winter when it gets dark early and stays dark for later. There’s always horror stories about people who get attacked when running alone in the dark, and I definitely don’t want that to happen.

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  16. says

    This post was really motivating for me!
    I have been in a runner’s rut recently and now I am just itching to go out for a run! Congrats on all of your running milestones!

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  17. says

    For some reason I cannot even run 1 mile on a treadmill, I get so dizzy and have to grip for my life the entire time…so props to you for running 13 miles on one!!

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  18. says

    I am training for a full marathon now. And I mix it up a little. I like to do some shorter runs on the treadmill, it gives me a chance to play with my speed a little, and I think that will help me get faster! The furthest I have gone is 5 miles though…

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  19. says

    Great topic today. Funny thing is, I’m training for my first half marathon solely on my treadmill. I have the same safey concerns, even though we live in a safe area. My husband doesn’t run because he banged them up playing basketball in high school and college. The only concern I have is the humidity. It’s humid where we live and while I’m used to it, I know it might make my running more difficult when I eventually run the half outside.Since you live in Florida, I know you deal with humidity as well, how did that effect your first half?

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  20. Christal says

    Im so excited I read this! Im training for the timkerbell half marathon this Jan and I have done alot fo running outside all last year with my BFF. But with warm weather and my 2 kids home during the summer outside wasnt a option, so I got a treadmill. Im about to start my training and like being out of the heat and sun, not to mention Im a bit nervice to run alone on a trail (BFF works full time now and cant run with me). I do want to do some runs here and there outside, but this makes me feel better running 70% of my training on my treadmill.

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  21. Melissa says

    Thanks for this post. I am training for my first half marathon. I can’t keep up with schedules and I feel safer on the treadmill also.
    It’s good to know it’s possible – even if it’s not the best finish time….I just want to do it and finish it

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  22. Laura says

    Just found this post-hope it’s not too late to add. I prefer the treadmill due to major stomach issues (especially on long runs) so my anxiety level is much lower knowing I’m near a restroom. Not good for race day but it helped calm me down for some long runs. I did 9 miles on the treadmill once, with one bathroom break. It definitely was boring after a while, but I am proud I did the nine miles.

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  23. Ravi says

    I am 47 and started running a little more than a year. Completed a few 5 k in 32 mins, now training for my first half marathon. Been training in treadmill and outdoors, almost 50/50. Been reading a lot of blogs and all I can get from you guys. Thank you.

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    • Meghan says

      I live where during the summer its going to be 90 degrees even at 6 am in the morning. Training on a treadmill is almost a have too. I do plan on doing some of my runs out side but for the sake of safety I need to train on a treadmill. My first half is in November and summers here are no joke.

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